Summer lasted too long and now we’re in that strange limbo where things are gloomy but still warm. As someone who requires full gloom to be happy (there’s a reason I live in Portland), times like these require a good “happy” book — a term we define loosely, but that probably means a book is a combination of cozy, nice, pleasant, heartwarming, etc. Feel-good books! Uplifting books! A few months ago, I put a call out to Powell’s booksellers to recommend their favorite happy reads, and they came through with so many, which is great news for those of us who need a deep bench of good reads to fall back on. We published our first collection of happy books back in July, and now we’re back for round two.
These books won’t replace a SAD lamp, but they’re a great supplement and will give you that boost we’re all looking for — the boost we all desperately need, considering *gestures at the whole world and everything happening in it* all of that.
I Capture the Castle is a book I’ve returned to repeatedly, when I need something comforting and consuming. Set in the 1930s, it’s a sweet coming-of-age novel written in journal entries from Cassandra, a teenager prone to romantic daydreams who lives in a rundown castle (a rundown castle!! The perfect setting for a comforting novel, in my opinion) with her family. There are stolen kisses and hijinks, eccentricities and lazy afternoons in the English countryside. The perfect, soothing read for a rainy afternoon.
7/10 on the otter scale, like a warm afternoon spent reading beneath a willow tree
Samantha Irby is my go-to author when I need something fun, funny, relatable, and raw, with a side of self-deprecation. With essay titles that range from “Into the Gross” to “Girls Gone Mild” to “We Almost Got a F****** Dog,” this collection is exactly what you would hope for from the great Irby. If you haven’t read Irby yet, start with this collection and then just… keep going. All of her stuff is so good. You can thank me later.
8/10 on the otter scale, like a much-needed gossip session over brunch
The words “heartwarming” and “postapocalyptic” may not seem like they belong in the same sentence, but when you’re describing a book like Hollow Kingdom, they do. S.T., an opinionated and foul-mouthed domesticated crow, has decided it’s his unhappy job to save the world from a plague of zombies. This book is so fun, funny, clever, and engaging — you won’t ever know where it’s headed next. And what’s better than one happy book? A happy book that’s the first in a series.
8/10 on the otter scale, like a plate of fluffy pancakes served with homemade maple syrup
I picked this one up originally because V. E. Schwab described it as “being wrapped up in a big gay blanket” and some other blurbs promised a renewed faith in humanity and some real heart-swelling moments. Which is a high bar for a book to reach, honestly! But this one did. When Linus Baker, a quiet, middle-aged man leading a quiet, middle-aged life, is called to a mysterious island to determine if the six possibly dangerous children being kept in an orphanage there might actually end the world. There are characters you’ll just want to hang out with, scenes that will make you laugh, other scenes that will make you cry. This book is full-to-bursting with everything you could want in a happy book.
9/10 on the otter scale, like finding an actual pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
The titular characters are a professor with a short-term memory limited to eighty minutes and the housekeeper that cares for him. It may not sound like the happiest of set ups, but the result is a book about a lovely, growing friendship between the mismatched pair, a meditation on what it means to live in the present (especially when the present is all you have), and, through the professor’s mathematical eyes, a look at how everything in our world is tied together, everything from a small shoe size to the expanse of the universe. Ogawa has long been a favorite author of mine, and The Housekeeper and the Professor is one of her sweeter, gentler offerings.
6/10 on the otter scale, like the smell of petrichor on an autumn morning
My kingdom for an infinite number of books from the inimitable Barbara Pym! I love all of her books, but this one is a special favorite and the titles says it all. Excellent Women is about excellent women (is there a better topic??) — in particular, women in a small town that the men in their lives take for granted and Mildred Lathbury, an unmarried 30-something who sees these women as the amazing people that they are. This “English high comedy” is plucky and fun, sweet and comforting. No matter how low or high your spirits might be, this book will life them, guaranteed. If you can, read this with a pot of tea nearby.
7/10 on the otter scale, like a long overdue phone call from an old friend
I’ll confess, I didn’t read these until after I’d seen the show, but I’m so glad I found my way to them. Reading Heartstopper just feels like having a high-school, heart-thumping crush all over again, which is such an exquisite feeling! The Heartstopper series is all so wholesome and sweet — the entire time I was reading it, I felt like that Grinch animation of his heart growing three sizes.
9/10 on the otter scale, like a passed note from your crush, asking if you like them
A list of happy books wouldn’t be complete without Jane Austen! And Emma is truly my favorite, when it comes to the combination of yummy romance and humor. A plucky heroine who really should know better than to get involved in everyone’s business, but does it anyway? A romantic interest that sees her for all her flaws and still sticks around? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book, and how many times it’s successfully gotten me out of a reading rut. (Added bonus: the most recent adaptation of this one? Truly a delight!)
7/10 on the otter scale, like the smell of a freshly plucked bouquet of wildflowers
If you were to ask me for three elements guaranteed to make me love a book, I would tell you: a bookseller at her wit’s end (for relatability), a small town in Scotland, and a crumbling family castle. What more could you possibly ask for? And The Bookshop on the Shore delivers all of those, and more. This book is so charming and, just, pleasant — truly, a breath of fresh air. I definitely was not not looking up flight costs as I was reading this, so beware…
8/10 on the otter scale, like a bag filled with books just waiting to be read